Magnus Carlsen plays in Wijk aan Zee for a 15th time as he looks to win the Tata Steel Masters title for a 7th time, but it’s
not going to be easy. Fabiano Caruana and MVL are the only players missing from
the world’s Top 8, with the 14-man field also featuring debuts for the likes of
Duda, Shankland, Fedoseev and Vidit. The Challengers is jam-packed with young
stars such as Praggnanandhaa and Maghsoodloo, with Vincent Keymer hunting a
final GM norm. Here at chess24 the dream team of Peter Svidler and Jan
Gustafsson is reunited for commentary.

The small Dutch seaside town of Wijk aan Zee is going to be
the centre of the chess world for two and a half weeks as the annual “Wimbledon of Chess”
starts this Saturday. 

There are once again 13 rounds in both the Masters and
Challengers, with the action starting at 13:30 each day (New York 07:30, London
12:30), except for the two “on tour” days in Alkmaar and Leiden, when the
Masters games start half an hour later:

Sat 12th January | Round
Sun 13th January | Round
Mon 14th January | Round
Tue 15th January | Round
Wed 16th January | Round

Thu 17th January | Rest Day

Fri 18th January | Round
Sat 19th January | Round
Sun 20th January | Round

Mon 21st January | Rest Day

Tue 22nd January | Round
(also Gibraltar R1)
Wed 23rd January | Round

Thu 24th January | Rest Day

Fri 25th January | Round
Sat 26th January | Round
Sun 27th January | Round

The tournament will be broadcast live on the official website, while if you’re a
chess24 Premium Member you can watch what we missed during the World
Championship match
– 8-time Russian Champion Peter Svidler and Carlsen-second
Jan Gustafsson reunited in the commentary booth! 

If you’re not yet Premium now’s
a great chance to take the leap, since if you enter the voucher code TATA2019
you’ll get 30% off i.e. a month’s Premium for only $6.99, while you could save
over $70 if you go for 3-year Premium (paying under $5 a month). Choose your membership here.

Let’s take a
look at the line-ups, starting, of course, with the Tata Steel Masters.

The survivors (and Ding Liren)

Tata Steel is the last remaining major supertournament to
have as many as 14 players in its line-ups, and the organisers take full
advantage of that size to invite a wide variety of players. What’s remarkable
in 2019 is that only five players remain from 2018. As you can see, they happen
to be the players that finished in the top five places!

Between them they’ve played in the event over 50 times, with
49-year-old former World Champion Vishy
leading the way with 18 appearances. The Indian has won it five times
and is always capable of adding to that tally, but the current champion Magnus Carlsen is now out in the sole
lead with six wins after victory in 2018. He of course starts as the favourite,
and it’ll be fascinating to see how he does after the World Championship match.
Will the left-over opening preparation from the match give him a boost, or will
fatigue be a factor? He also, of course, played in the World Rapid and Blitz in
St. Petersburg. Magnus is usually a slow-starter in Wijk aan Zee (and in general), and if that
repeats this year his world no. 1 spot may yet again be in danger. Fabiano
Caruana isn’t playing this month, but he’s just 7 points behind on the rating

World no. 3 Shakhriyar
could also potentially end the tournament as the world no. 1,
and he’ll be looking to continue the form he’s shown in the last two years.
After a marathon of big events last year (included a stunning victory in Biel,
where he beat Magnus) he made an emotional outburst on Facebook about how
finances forced him to play too much, but since then he’s had a quiet couple of
months to unwind and enjoy life as a new father. He led with 5.5/7 last year
before winning just one of the last six games, and will hope to have learned
from that experience.      

Local hero Anish Giri
came even closer to the title, being denied only by the tournament introducing
a playoff in case of a tie for first place. He became yet another Magnus
tiebreak victim, but he’ll be looking for a repeat of that impressive
performance – and will as always be the one to watch on social media.

Vladimir Kramnik finished half a point off the pace last year with 6 wins, 2 losses and just 5
draws, and chess fans will be hoping the Russian former World Champion once
again adopts the ultra-aggressive style he’s taken to playing in the later
years of his career. Age may still be a factor, since at 43 he faces the
disadvantage, like Vishy, of taking on a young line-up in a gruelling 13-round
event. Ten of his opponents are aged 28 or under.

The one player in the current Top 5 who was missing last
year was Ding Liren, who we can
assume was deep in preparation for the Candidates Tournament. This year let’s
hope the Chinese no. 1 is intent on starting to win some of the biggest events –
now that his
unbeaten streak was ended on 100 games
he can afford to take a few more
risks. Magnus set out the challenge facing Ding in his recent conversation
with Jan Gustafsson

I like Ding, he’s a great player, but then on the other hand
I had some fun in our little match in St. Louis, and his streak and his results
recently speak for themselves, he’s doing great, but I think he himself would
admit that he hasn’t really proven it in the very top tournaments yet. I think
he’s eager to get the chance and prove his worth. In the last Candidates he
showed that he could fight on equal terms with everybody, but he didn’t really
show anything more, and I think he’s certainly eager to do that. Whether he
will – I remain sceptical until I’m proven otherwise.

The debutants: Duda (20), Shankland (27), Fedoseev (23),
Vidit (24), Van Foreest (19)

The full line-up is as follows:

Of those players, no less than five are making their debut
in the Masters in 2019, but perhaps only 19-year-old Jorden van Foreest is a clear outsider. He’s rated 83-223 points
below his rivals, failed to qualify through the Challengers and will no doubt
be targeted by the big guns, but the erratic Dutch youngster has great
potential, as he showed in winning the 2016 Dutch Championship as a

The other players have more experience at the top level. Vidit qualified with an unbeaten 9/13
in the 2019 Challengers and the Indian no. 3 will be looking to return to the
2700 club where he belongs. Vladimir
is the only player making a debut not only in the Masters but in
Wijk aan Zee in general – he never played the Challengers. He’s shown since his
breakout year in 2017 that despite a hugely aggressive style of play he can
hold his own in elite company, but 2018 was a relatively quiet year for him.
He’ll be hoping to make more headlines in 2019.

Sam Shankland
was invited on the back of a stunning 2018. The US
player proved that you don’t have to hit the top by your 20th birthday as last
year he suddenly switched on Hulk mode to win the US Championship despite the
presence of Caruana, Nakamura and So. He proved it was no fluke as he went on
to win the Capablanca Memorial and the American Continental Championship, but
this will be his first chance to play against the very best in an international
round-robin. He’s looking forward to it!

That leaves Jan-Krzysztof
, the man of the hour! The 20-year-old Polish grandmaster had already
impressed in 2018, winning the Polish Championship and taking over the Polish
no. 1 spot from Radek Wojtaszek. His Olympiad performance was underwhelming in
terms of rating, but turned into a super-tournament on board 1: he faced
Karjakin, MVL, Ivanchuk, Mamedyarov, Aronian, Caruana, Ding Liren and Anand in
consecutive rounds and held his own, beating Ivanchuk and losing to MVL and
Ding. The draw against Levon Aronian featured one
of the year’s most amazing combinations
. Magnus commented on Duda:

I think he still has a long way to go when it comes to
experience and understanding, but he makes up for a lot of it by being very
energetic and extremely optimistic as well. It’s always interesting to watch
his games because he always goes for it – he never plays for a draw.

Then the year ended with a spectacular blitz show from the
young star:

His 7.5/9 for the final day left him a full 2 points ahead
of Hikaru Nakamura in 3rd place, but was only enough to push Magnus all the way
to the very end. 

Still, Duda considered it the greatest achievement of his
career so far, and combined with his rapid performance it meant a $68,333
payday for a player who’d earlier in the year mentioned that he still relies on
financial support from his mum and can’t pay all the chess expenses he
requires to reach the top. He was congratulated
by the Polish Prime Minister
and gave numerous interviews. What are his ambitions?

Now I’m already 19th in the world. I plan to get into the
Top 10 and, some fine day, become the World Champion, in classical chess.

He noted he probably has 10 years in which to do that, since
the level of play tends to drop a little after the age of 30. Still a 2nd year
student in Krakow’s University School of Physical Education, Duda is keeping
his feet on the ground
for his debut in the Tata Steel Masters:

I’m the 9th seed in the event. I don’t assume anything. I’m
going there simply to practice, to play against the best. I don’t assume I’ll
be first. I don’t assume I’ll be last. I’m going there to see where I stand,
how I look among the world’s best players. Above all I’m glad that thanks to an
invitation from the organisers I’ve got the chance. After all, it’s very
difficult to get into that tournament.

Dark horses: Nepomniachtchi, Radjabov, Rapport

We then come to players for whom it’s hard to know what to
expect. Russian Grandmaster Ian
is one who on a good day could definitely win the event – in
2018 he won Dortmund to add to a previous supertournament victory in the Tal
Memorial. Since then his only classical chess was a disappointing performance
in the Russian Championship, while he didn’t make a big impact on the World
Rapid and Blitz in St. Petersburg.

Teimour Radjabov,
meanwhile, remains something of a mystery. A child prodigy who exploded onto
the chess scene, he now, at the age of 31, barely plays, with his individual
chess events in 2018 seeming to consist of just one tournament – 9 draws in
Shamkir Chess. He then played for Azerbaijan in the Olympiad, however, scoring an
unbeaten +4 with a win over Wesley So, and his 2757 rating still makes him the
world no. 14. He also seems to be working on his chess, as instead of playing in St. Petersburg he held a training camp with Anish Giri and
Fabiano Caruana’s former coach Vladimir Chuchelov (no-one quite does exciting Instagram posts like Teimour…):

22-year-old Richard
is a fan favourite for his bold and original style of play. He notably beat Magnus Carlsen in his last appearance in Wijk in 2017, but that
proved only a consolation as he ended the tournament in 2nd last place.

We’ll have the pairings below when they’re announced:

Tata Steel Challengers – the kids are coming!

If you talk about favourites for the Challengers you have to
start with Anton Korobov (who began the 2018 edition with 5.5/6 before
finishing 2nd) and 2018 Aeroflot Open winner Vladislav Kovalev, but all eyes
are going to be on the kids!

Those are Praggnanandha (13), Vincent Keymer (14), Andrey Esipenko
(16), Lucas van Foreest (17), Parham Maghsoodloo (18) and Benjamin Gledura (19),
all of whom will be very familiar to chess fans who’ve watched their rise over the
last few years. Of particular interest may be seeing if Germany’s
Vincent Keymer can get his final grandmaster norm (all the others are already
grandmasters), and whether reigning World Junior Chess Champion Parham
Maghsoodloo can become the youngest player in the 2700 club (that’s currently
Wei Yi). If Parham manages he’s sure to be in the fight for first place and an
automatic spot in the Masters in 2020.

We’ll have the pairings here when they’re announced later

All that remains to say is don’t miss Jan and Peter’s live
commentary that begins at 13:30 CET on Saturday: Tata Steel Masters |

See also: